Thursday, February 27
The transition to all-IP networks may be the hot tech topic inside the Beltway these days, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t other pressing issues. Like the need to free up more spectrum for wireless use, which as Kate Tummarello from The Hill reports, is getting some much-needed attention from members of the House:
As the Federal Communications Commission prepares for its 2015 airwaves buy-back and auction, a pair of House lawmakers has launched a new congressional caucus focused on spectrum.
The caucus, announced Thursday by Reps. Doris Matsui (D-Calif.) and Brett Guthrie (R-Ky.), will examine spectrum-related issues, including licensed spectrum — such as the kind used by federal agencies and wireless companies — and unlicensed spectrum, which powers Wi-Fi systems.
“As our economy increasingly relies on spectrum, this Caucus will be an important mechanism for our colleagues and congressional staff to engage on the spectrum policies, both licensed and unlicensed, facing our economy,” Matsui said in a statement.
Friday, January 10
At the official blog of the Federal Communications Commission, Chairman Tom Wheeler lays out the Commission’s commitment to achieving the transition to all-Internet based networks. As the Chairman writes:
Among the biggest changes the FCC must confront are the IP transitions. Note the use of the plural “transitions.” Circuit switching is being replaced by more efficient networks – made of fiber or copper or wireless. Greater efficiency in networks can translate into greater innovation and greater benefits for network operators and users alike.
The best way to speed technology transitions is to incent network investment and innovation by preserving the enduring values that consumers and businesses have come to expect. Those values: public safety, interconnection, competition, consumer protection and, of course, universal access, are not only familiar, they are fundamental.
Those very same values were highlighted by our own Honorary Chairman Rick Boucher in an op-ed for Bloomberg Government in November:
Government must play a key role throughout this process by advancing consumer interests with a transition plan guided by core principles. These basic protections will remain government’s responsibility even after the old phone system is shut down:
1. The commitment to universal service must endure. Next-generation high-speed broadband networks and their benefits must be available to every American. As we move beyond the old phone network, we cannot leave anybody behind. Without dictating specific technologies or micro-managing how communications competitors meet their public service obligations, we must push the envelope to ensure that every American can access modern broadband service and enjoy the benefits that come with it. At a minimum, post transition everybody should enjoy service at least as good as they can now receive from copper-wire phone networks.
2. Public safety must be assured. 911 emergency calls must go through—every single time—no matter what technology or services consumers adopt.
3. Services for the hearing-impaired and those with vision problems also must be retained at levels that at least match what consumers enjoy today.
4. Consumer protection must remain at the heart of communications policy. Consumers must know that government has their back; that service providers will deliver on their promises; that spotty service, fraud, or other abuses will not be tolerated. Consumers must have a place to take complaints with confidence that something will be done about them.
5. Establishing a backup plan for power failures should be part of the transition process. The rebuilding after Hurricane Sandy exposed some potential weaknesses in the way our digital technology works today. While fiber-optic-based systems tolerate water damage that can short out copper wires, they are more vulnerable when the electricity at the user’s premises goes out.
6. Special retrofitting and other creative solutions may be required to ensure that modern networks function fully with personal and business equipment such as fax machines, security systems, health monitors, and credit card readers, even though they may not currently be compatible with today’s broadband connections.
While it’s encouraging Chairman Wheeler is taking the plunge when it comes to the IP Transition, in reality it’s just one of the major issues the FCC will face under his watch. As our Co-Chairman Bruce Mehlman argued in December, outdated regulations could make many of the FCC’s work difficult:
At the FCC, Wheeler inherits a regulatory regime designed decades ago for an earlier era. Voice and video services are regulated under separate provisions of the Communications Act of 1934 (Title II and Title VI, respectively) based on assumptions of a permanent monopoly and massive barriers to entry. The Act and its subsequent amendments fundamentally fail to acknowledge the competitive alternatives created by the technological and marketplace convergence of the broadband age. Today’s FCC-enforced regulatory framework was designed for a world without Netflix Inc., Skype Communications, Google Inc., or iPhones — a world without the Internet. Thus, the agency remains stuck in the past, distinguishing among companies based on the technology they use and their legacy status under the Act. Consumers make no such distinctions.
That Chairman Wheeler and the Commissioners at the FCC are already rolling up their sleeves for the IP Transition should be applauded. But it’s just one of many issues the Commission needs to dive into in the next 12 months.
With this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (also known as CES) now in the rearview mirror, Dan Rowinski of Read Write Web explores a major takeaway from this year’s show:
The first phase of mobile was about turning our cellphones into what are essentially powerful pockets PCs. This posed unique challenges because of the size of the device and data connectivity issues. Over the past seven years (dating from the launch of the first iPhone), engineers worked to make everything smaller and faster while software developers created apps and systems to turn a cellphone into an “everything” device. The second phase will be to take that concept of everything and spread it everywhere. The connected home, the smart car, the television and commerce are all being informed by the advances that have been made in mobile.
“We are in the middle of the inflection point from developing the technology to deploying it,” said CEO of Ericsson Hans Vestberg when describing what he called the second phase of mobile at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week.
With mobility increasingly dominating our lives, Rowinski’s takeaway from CES dovetails nicely with two major policy topics at this year’s show: spectrum allocation and the transition to all-IP networks, both of which will be critical for the always-connected future on display at CES to work.
Monday, December 09
In more FCC news, late last week the Commission announced it was delaying its incentive spectrum auction. As Alina Selyukh of Reuters reports:
The U.S. Federal Communications Commission, as long predicted, now plans to hold the so-called incentive auction of broadcast airwaves in mid-2015, a year later than originally intended, the agency chairman said on Friday.
The FCC is now drafting rules for the auction that would reshuffle the ownership of valuable frequencies among TV stations, as well as wireless carriers, which are clamoring for faster speeds and better services for their devices.
Thursday, December 05
Speaking of spectrum, Phil Goldstein at Fierce Wireless reports that a big player in the satellite game is planning to participate in an upcoming auction:
Dish Network has officially registered its intent to bid in the FCC’s upcoming 1900 MHz PCS H Block spectrum auction—and it is likely to secure a significant amount of licenses since it is the only major company planning to participate in the auction. If Dish is successful in winning H Block licenses, the company would notably improve its already significant spectrum portfolio.
The FCC released a list of bidders for the H Block on Wednesday; the auction is scheduled to start Jan. 22. The commission said 14 bidders entered complete applications and an additional 20 bidders submitted incomplete applications that they can correct by Dec. 18.
DISH has long made it known that it wishes to get into the highly competitive wireless business, so their jumping into the auctions isn’t really surprising.
According to Brendan Sasso of The Hill, the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee will be holding a hearing on the FCC’s upcoming spectrum auction on December 10. Expected to be discussed will be a nationwide public safety network and whether limitations should be imposed on the auctions, which many lawmakers and industry groups warn would severely diminish returns from the auctions.
Thursday, November 14
Today’s letter from a handful of organizations that asks the FCC to set spectrum-auction aggregation limits puts whipped cream on a mud pie. The FCC should follow Congress’ clear goals of getting more spectrum out into the marketplace for all willing investors and maximizing revenue to fix the debt, rather than siding with some competitors over others. We should be finding more spectrum for all carriers rather than barriers to hold some back. The suggested limits would reduce auction revenue, make broadcasters less likely to participate and reduce the pace of broadband investment.
Wednesday, October 30
Late yesterday, the Senate unanimously approved the appointments of Tom Wheeler and Michael O’Rielly to the FCC. Upon joining the FCC this week, Wheeler and O’Reilly will now bring the Commission to full strength.
The new members join the FCC at a critical time. As my colleague Jamal Simmons wrote back in May (such is the pace of Washington these days), two of the very top issues the Commission faces are the modernization and upgrade of our existing telephone networks and the ever-pressing need to free up more spectrum to meet the increasing demand for wireless broadband by America’s consumers.
To bring next-generation broadband networks to the entire nation, the FCC should approve demonstration tests in several markets, similar to the trails set up by the FCC preceding the conversion to digital television, in order for this major network upgrade to be as smooth as possible. For spectrum, the Commission should move quickly on holding open incentive auctions, rapidly approve secondary market transactions, and work with NTIA in the repurposing of federal spectrum so it can be put to use for consumers.
And the FCC should move rapidly on the ConnectEd initiative, to help ensure access to high-speed broadband for our nation’s students at school and at home. Making that program a reality, along with the two agenda items listed above, will help the FCC make a lasting and highly positive impact on the lives of consumers and the economy as a whole.
On behalf of all of us at IIA, congratulations to Wheeler and O’Rielly on their confirmations, and also congratulations to Acting Chairwoman Clyburn for her steady leadership during the past few months. Now it’s time to roll up sleeves and get to work.
Tuesday, October 29
Today’s Wall Street Journal has a short piece that packs a big tech wallop.
Penned by Charles Townsend, “Smartphones to Monitor Insulin and Smell Flowers” argues that the devices we now carry are only at the beginning of the potential. For example, Townsend writes:
Ten years from now, you won’t need to carry your Visa or MasterCard because your cellphone will function as a credit card. You will place your phone on a scanner at a restaurant and your purchase will either be charged directly to your cellular bill or to your credit card. The phone will verify that it is you by checking your thumb print. Wireless companies will have become mobile banks.
Other highlights from Townsend’s piece: A new wireless camera being developed by Qualcomm that transmit pictures to your doctor’s smartphone(!); a smartphone that translates languages for you in real-time(!); and a phone that, as Townsend puts it, is “able to smell a strange odor in your home and tell you that tomatoes are rotting(!).”
Townsend’s article isn’t all future-cool, though, as he pivots into territory we at IIA have long tread in — having enough spectrum available to handle the coming deluge of data on wireless networks. As he writes:
If all goes as planned, the FCC may be able to come up with about half of the necessary new wireless spectrum by 2020, leaving a 250 MHz shortfall. Hopefully, the FCC can convince a number of federal agencies to give up significant additional spectrum. Otherwise, wireless engineers will have to come up with a better way to use the finite amount of spectrum they already have. If they don’t, soon enough your smartphone will remind you of the dial-up speeds of the 1990s—and it will be years, if not decades, before we realize the full potential of these devices.
Agreed on all points.
Thursday, October 17
Now that the federal government is up and running again, things are expected to heat up on the tech policy front. Case in point, as Brendan Sasso of The Hill reports:
The Senate could confirm President Obama’s nominees to the Federal Communications Commission and Federal Trade Commission as early as Wednesday night.
Tom Wheeler, President Obama’s pick for FCC chairman, and Michael O’Rielly, a nominee for a Republican commission seat, have been placed on a fast track for Senate approval, according to a document circulated on Capitol Hill Wednesday.
Terrell McSweeny, a Democratic FTC nominee, and Kathryn Sullivan, nominated to head the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, could also be approved.
With hot issues like spectrum auctions and the transition to advanced networks on the table, it’s good to see the government back to work, and that the FCC could finally have a new Chairman ASAP.
Thursday, September 26
At a technology conference in London this month, a BMW official gave a remarkable account of the speed at which his company is adopting wireless technologies to improve its cars’ performance.
Last year, according to Vice President of IT Infrastructure Mario Mueller, there were about one million BMWs wirelessly connecting to the web. This year, that number has grown to 2.5 million vehicles, and by 2018 he expects 10 million vehicles wirelessly feeding and receiving data.
Here’s another way of quantifying this remarkable growth: In 2012, BMW had about the same number of wirelessly connected vehicles as are registered in Suffolk County, a leafy suburb of New York City. By 2018, the company expects to have a million more wirelessly connected vehicles than are registered in the entire state of New York.
In terms of mobile data, BMW’s vehicles currently use 40 gigabytes per day. By 2018, the company expects this will grow to a terabyte per day, which is enough data to stream 366 hours of high-definition video, according to Netflix.
BMW’s mobile transformation is one more example of the increasingly urgent need for officials at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to hold its upcoming spectrum incentive auction, tentatively planned for late next year. This will be the first major auction of airwaves necessary to handle Americans’ growing mobile data demands since early 2008, when Apple didn’t even have a public App Store.
With more than 20% of all adult cell phone owners doing most of their web browsing on their mobile phones and more than 750,000 jobs that depend on the mobile app economy, there’s immense pressure on the FCC to move quickly.
This is why it is vital that the FCC structure this spectrum auction in a way that promotes the best possible use of this spectrum and generates the most revenue. Above all, the Commission should soundly reject the concept of favoring some bidders over others. An attempt to artificially favor or hinder bidders would be terribly unfair to tens of millions of wireless users who might see degraded service as a result of wireless providers not getting the spectrum they need to serve their customers.
Beyond that, artificial restrictions could cost U.S. taxpayers as much as $12 billion in lost revenue, according to a Georgetown study, much of which would go to fund a nationwide public safety system for first responders. This network will help police and other emergency response personnel to coordinate rescue efforts during emergencies.
The FCC has every reason — sustaining jobs, protecting taxpayers, fostering economic growth — to hold fair and unrestricted auctions. Such an auction is the best way to promote economic vibrancy and the benefits of our wireless marketplace.
For the FCC to do anything less would put our mobile economy on a road to nowhere.
Wednesday, September 11
In a post for The Hill‘s Congress Blog, Brian Fontes, chief executive officer for the National Emergency Number Association, argues that successfully building state-of-the-art public safety networks will require smart spectrum auctions from the FCC:
In order to be successful, however, the auction must generate maximum revenue by capturing the full value of repurposed spectrum. This is the best and perhaps only opportunity to raise the necessary funds for investment in a network we so desperately need. We cannot settle for half-measures and incremental moves – the FCC must take decisive steps and set up an auction that delivers the resources needed to empower our public safety officials.
An incentive auction permitting all bidders to participate will be the most effective way to deliver the funds necessary to build FirstNet and help deploy Next Generation 9-1-1. If the most likely bidders in the auction face participation limits, then as a recent study found, auction proceeds would fall 40 percent. Restrictions, including limits on bids, would likely slash $12 billion in revenue. Broadcasters wishing to make the most of their spectrum holdings will be more hesitant to offer up their airwaves for bidding. A limited spectrum inventory will reduce funds generated from the auction, and jeopardize the future of FirstNet and funding for Next Generation 9-1-1.
Monday, September 09
Earlier today, we held a Twitterview with Chris Seline, founder of Twicsy. Here’s the extended interview. — IIA
What type of business do you run?
Twicsy is a Twitter picture search engine. Think of Google dedicated to Twitter pictures.
Does your business impact consumers? If so, how?
We give consumers a way to see what’s going on in the world in pictures. Twitter is an incredible source for firsthand accounts of everything from small parties to major world events, and Twicsy captures the public pictures to show you what’s happening right now.
How does broadband relate to your business?
Displaying numerous high resolution photos on a webpage requires lots of bandwidth and we are always trying to push the limits of what the users can download quickly. The faster the user’s connection the better their experience will be.
How has high-speed broadband or wireless broadband helped build, develop, transform or grow your business?
Prior to broadband, displaying multiple high resolution images on a web page would result in page load times in the minutes. That is not a good user experience! I believe Google Images was the first image search engine back in 2001. Back then all they displayed were tiny low resolution pictures.
Is spectrum, the invisible airwaves that carry voice and data signals to and from electronic devices, critical to the future of your business? If so, how?
I believe it is. As more people use the web on their mobile devices, the need for faster broadband accessible from anywhere becomes more and more important. In order for us to deliver a consistent user experience across all devices it is critical that the mobile broadband infrastructure improve to the level of the wired. We currently have over 30% of users access Twicsy from their mobile device, and that number is only going to go up.
How would a ‘spectrum crunch’ impact your business?
It would greatly affect our ability to deliver our service to an increasing number of mobile users. As cell phones rapidly replace desktops as consumers’ primary internet devices they will put larger demands on our mobile broadband infrastructure. A spectrum crunch would affect just about everybody!
Friday, August 30
Verizon has flirted with purchasing European-based provider Vodafone for years now, and as Ryan Knutson, Spencer E. Ante, and Dana Cimilluca of The Wall Street Journal report, the talks have heated up again:
Verizon Communications Inc. \ and Vodafone Group PLC have rekindled talks about a buyout of the U.K. company’s stake in their U.S. wireless joint venture in a deal that would likely cost Verizon well over $100 billion, people familiar with the matter said.
Vodafone confirmed Thursday that it was in talks with Verizon to sell its stake, but said there is no certainty an agreement will be reached.
With competition in the U.S. hotter than ever, don’t be surprised if similar international deals start taking shape.
Wednesday, August 21
While the FCC continues to design its critical spectrum auctions, there’s grumbling from some corners of the broadcasting world that many broadcasters won’t be voluntarily coughing up their airwaves. As Brendan Sasso of The Hill reports:
Television stations affiliated with the major networks have no interest in selling their broadcast licenses back to the Federal Communications Commission, according to Preston Padden, the director of a coalition of broadcasters who want to sell their licenses.
“To the best of my knowledge, the commission is extremely unlikely to attract affiliates of ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox to this auction,” Padden said during a panel discussion at a Technology Policy Institute conference. “I am not personally aware of any affiliate of a major network who is planning to participate in the auction.”
Hopefully the FCC figures out a way to incentivize affiliates to put their spectrum up for auctions, otherwise it will be hard for the entire auction to succeed.
Friday, August 16
At Light Reading, our Honorary Chairman Rick Boucher argues that open spectrum auctions will open the door to growth. Here’s a taste:
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) could hand its equivalent of a winning Powerball ticket to select communications companies in the upcoming spectrum auctions. As the FCC creates rules for the incentive auctions, it has the ability to stack the odds, restricting participation in the auctions by some mobile providers and essentially picking winners and losers among our nation’s carriers.
Today, the wireless industry’s future is in the hands of policy makers. The federal government expects to hold spectrum auctions in 2014 in which air frequencies currently used by broadcast television stations, but well-suited for mobile broadband, will be put up for sale. Much is at stake in the way that the auction is structured and in its ultimate success.
Check out Boucher’s full op-ed over at Light Reading.
Monday, August 12
As the FCC prepares for its spectrum incentive auctions next year, there’s a mind-boggling amount of details to be sorted out. Case in point: The FCC’s TVStudy software, which will gauge areas covered by broadcasters and pinpoint possible areas of interference once spectrum one more spectrum is allocated for wireless. As John Eggerton of Broadcasting & Cable reports, while the proposed software is being criticized by some broadcasters, FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai recently took a strong stand in its defense:
Broadcasters have argued the software and data used should be that in existence when the incentive auction law was passed, and that to do otherwise does not square with that law, and in any case is fundamentally flawed.
But in his comments on Friday’s presentation on the status of the incentive auctions, Pai said: ”[B]roadcasters should support updating our software so that it can work on modern computer systems, run more quickly, and perform the type of analysis that will be necessary to support the incentive auction. Likewise, they should be open to including the most recent census data in that software.”
Obviously, this is all very complicated. Which is all the more reason for the FCC to ensure it gets its auction guidelines right.
Monday, August 05
With wireless providers in desperate need of more spectrum, the FCC has been working toward making its incentive auctions happen sometime next year. But as John Eggerton of Broadcasting & Cable reports, Sen. Mark Pryor, chairman of the Senate Communications Subcommittee, believes the Commission may not hit the target:
Asked about the state of the FCC incentive auctions, Pryor said he would be “totally fine” with holding those auctions in 2014, but has heard “rumors” it could slide into 2015 and “guessed” it might just make that slide.
Broadcasters have been arguing that the FCC should not hold itself to 2014, but work on getting the auction “done right rather than right away.” The FCC’s incentive auction point people have suggested it can get it right and meet that 2014 deadline, though that deadline is not set in stone.
Not so fast, the FCC told Eggerton in a follow-up report:
“The Commission’s world-class incentive auction team of economists, auction experts, and engineers is making steady progress towards holding the world’s first incentive auction in 2014; which will free up significant spectrum for mobile broadband use,” said [acting chair Mignon Clyburn’s] spokesman. “The auction is a top institutional priority and we are on track to help deliver faster speeds, greater capacity, and more ubiquitous wireless connectivity to consumers and businesses across the country.”
Tuesday, July 30
Our Honorary Chairman Rick Boucher has taken to the digital pages of The Street to argue for smart spectrum policies. Here’s a taste:
Limiting the amount of spectrum these carriers can acquire would potentially rig the auction results, prevent some carriers from getting the spectrum necessary to give customers the service quality they demand, and forestall future wireless innovation. It’s also at odds with Congress’ clear preference for a competitive, level playing field among qualified bidders.
With fewer qualified participants, the auction is less likely to meet Congress’ desire to maximize auction proceeds to fund a planned nationwide public safety broadband network, to compensate broadcasters for the auction of their spectrum and to reduce the federal budget deficit. A recent Georgetown University study contends that severe bidding restrictions could cut revenues by as much as 40%.
Check out Boucher’s full op-ed at The Street.
Thursday, July 25
At Broadcasting & Cable, John Eggerton highlights a speech from FCC commissioner Ajit Pai earlier today:
FCC commissioner Ajit Pai said Thursday that the commission still had work to do on the mobile spectrum allocation and process reform fronts. He also said the FCC either needs to set an internal schedule for various elements required for holding a broadcast incentive auction in 2014, or if that is not possible reconsider that 2014 date.
That is according to a copy of a speech commissioner Pai was giving on Thursday in Pittsburgh, the city where he delivered his first speech as FCC commissioner a year ago.
Commissioner Pai also spoke to B&C about ongoing efforts to reform the FCC:
“Some of [the reforms] are pretty simple. Establishing more deadlines for ourselves and giving those deadlines some teeth, whether that it is in the context of a rulemaking, saying the FCC should act by such and such a date, or in the context of an adjudication.” He said similarly adding sunset clauses to rules unless they are necessary in the public interest. “I don’t see process reforms like these as partisan and I hope in the coming year we can see some meaningful reforms.”